Stop telling single women they’re fabulous! by S. Eckel
This editorial kind of, vaguely, reminds me of one that The Christian Post ran a couple of months ago, where a married guy was condescendingly trying to reassure singles that they are fine single. (Here: (Link): Oh geeze. Another married Christian condescendingly patting single Christians on the head, reassuring them they are dandy as-is, and to remember they have the fictional Gift of Singleness)
Sometimes, secular writers play this game too, where you will have a female feminist writer reassuring her female single readers that they are awesome as they are, they don’t need a man to be happy!
(I agree, women don’t need a man to be happy. If you are a woman who feels you need a man to be “whole” or happy or to have an identity or purpose in life, please pick up and read a copy of the book “Codependent No More.” However, knowing you don’t “need” one doesn’t mean you don’t want one, that you would turn your nose up at consistent companionship.)
I don’t always mind such editorials, but it depends on the tone. Many of them do come across as condescending, even though they mean well.
One aspect of this I don’t completely agree with is that the woman who wrote it, Eckel, seems to feel that single women today should not pine for marriage and romance.
In some ways, Eckel seems to think it’s better if a single woman is totally thrilled being single all the time – as though it is wrong, bad, or “less- than- feminist” for a single woman to still want marriage, or to admit to others she’d still like to be married.
And that is an attitude I find terribly annoying, as well as offensive ((Link): and some Christian single women advocate it, too).
While I am mostly okay being single, I still would like to marry.
If a woman is totally thrilled being single and does not care at all if she ever marries, and considers her life great as it is, that is just swell by me. Truly it is.
But I am so sick of these editorials and articles swinging back and forth between extremes, with one extreme being other singles (or women who are married now but who didn’t marry until age 30 or older) who chide me (I’m in my early 40s now), or who shame me, for wanting marriage.
I want people to respect the fact that I want marriage.
No, that isn’t quite what I mean, I don’t think. To put it another, more accurate way, I don’t want other people stomping and shitting on my desire for marriage – which they do frequently, whether we are talking about liberal, secular feminists, or right wing, conservative Christians.
I don’t feel I need or want some other person’s approval in regards for my desire to be married, but I do want people who write these articles, blogs, and books about singleness and marriage to stop telling me it’s wrong for me to want marriage, or shaming me for wanting it.
No, I don’t expect marriage to be full-time Nirvana.
Side Rant. (I should make this into its own, separate post, if I think of it)
- Good gravy, I wish that straw man argument would die.
But married people bring it up all the time when trying to console singles who are not totally happy with singleness.
Nine out of ten of these “blame and shame” editorials and articles assume that women who are not 100% happy, 100% of the time with singleness must view marriage in an unrealistic, dreamy, Hollywood, fairy tale way, that we singles think marriage will solve all our problems.
False. We don’t view it in that manner.
Some of the younger single women (ie, in their teens and 20s) may harbor unrealistic notions about men, dating, relationships and marriage, but not others, especially women who are over 35 years of age.
So please, authors, stop telling me that I must be expecting too much of marriage, I must have fairy tale views of it, etc. I don’t.
I was engaged several years to an idiot. We were in a long term, serious relationship. I damn well already know men can be disappointing, thanks to my ex.
But still, I am tired of having my dream or goal of marriage scoffed at, or told I should just be happy as is.
Eckel does attempt to address these concerns of mine towards the end when she writes,
- It takes courage to stay true to yourself when so many voices are telling you to follow a more conventional path.
It takes mental agility to hold two ideas in your head at once: Yes, I would like to meet someone someday; yes, I am fine right now as I am.
But… and yet.. the first 4/5 of her article never the less reads kind of like a very watered-down, feminist re-hash of “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, so women, just enjoy singleness, be all you can be, live the hell out of your life.”
There is, to me, a very slight, quiet tone in the first 4/5 of her article where she seems to feel it’s wrong for a single woman to want to be married. I’m not saying it’s overt, it’s not; it’s just sort of hinted at. At least that is how I read it.
Despite those misgivings, I think it’s a decent piece about singleness.
- Being unmarried is now a life choice that gives women power. Can we all collectively drop the air of condescension?
SARA ECKEL, THE DATE REPORT
… In other words, my friends — all roughly the same age, all grown-up professionals — are at different life stages.
My married friends are at the place where women over 30 are generally expected to be — doing the work-family juggle, Sundays with the in-laws.
My single friends, on the other hand, are exploring fairly new and unchartered terrain — the life of single adults who, while open to the right romantic relationship, can manage beautifully on their own.
But please: Don’t call them fabulous. My unmarried friends are smart, interesting women who are engaged in life. There’s no need to wrap them in a feather boa.
We still don’t really know how to talk about single women in our culture. In decades past, they were lonely spinsters, quietly languishing in their studio apartments. Later, they became hollow careerists who paid too high a price for their ambition.
Then, sometime in the late 1990s, society awakened to the fact that actually a lot of unmarried women were having a pretty great time and were in no rush to marry now or maybe ever.
This was a vast improvement over the old models, but it too quickly descended into caricature — the boozy party girl, the intellectual lightweight whose brainwork mostly revolved around dating rules and snaring those designer boots at 40% off.
In a 2011 (Link): Atlantic essay, Kate Bolick did a nice job of presenting a more accurate and nuanced portrait of today’s single women, describing mature, independent professionals who, either by choice or circumstance, happened to not be married.
But she also attributed the growing ranks of unmarried women to a rather grim cause — the lack of marriage-worthy men —explaining that women’s educational and economic gains are creating a “new scarcity” of male peers.
I see this trend in a far more positive light — women are delaying and forgoing marriage because they can.
In generations past, the 28-year-old who walked away from a stable-but-uninspired relationship was putting not just her happiness but also her very survival at risk.
But now that women no longer have to depend on men for financial support, we are enjoying a historically unprecedented luxury: to hold out for the right relationship, or to not have one at all.
What was once a state defined in the negative—unmarried—now has become a life choice that gives women power: to own your own home, to navigate foreign countries alone, to have a child on your own.
The power to leave a mediocre relationship, to freeze your eggs, to ignore the societal pressure — still very present — to just get married already.
This doesn’t mean it’s easy to be single. While the “fabulous” conceit depicts the single life as a breezy carnival ride, living on your own in our very couple-centric culture is actually quite a lot of work.
Couples have the luxury of dividing household expenses and chores — from choosing a retirement plan to knowing when it’s time to clean the rain gutters — singles, on the other hand, manage the whole operation on their own.
Sure it’s nice to have the freedom to make life decisions — should I move to Santa Fe for that job? Do I want to live in a city high-rise or a suburban bungalow? — without compromise.
But it’s also quite daunting to do so without the consult of a partner, to bear the full weight of each decision.
Even more challenging is dealing with the perpetual sense that you have to explain “why” you’re single to – well, just about anyone: your uncle, your parents’ friends, your cab driver, your dentist.
Single women are often reluctant to admit the challenges of living alone for fear they will be slapped with darker adjectives—“desperate,” “pathetic.”
But all of these stereotypes are misleading. The single life isn’t a prison sentence nor is it a cocktail party.
It is simply a life—a life with responsibilities and rewards, good days and bad ones, successes and failures. It’s marching into your boss’s office and demanding to be paid what your married male co-worker earns because dammit you need the money.
It’s counseling your niece on issues she’s not quite comfortable talking about with her mom. It’s selling your house and moving to South America because why not? It’s asking a man for a date and he says yes. It’s asking a man for a date and he says no.
The single life isn’t a prison sentence nor is it a cocktail party.
It is simply a life—a life with responsibilities and rewards, good days and bad ones, successes and failures.
Most of all, it’s a rich and varied life with many opportunities to build strength and character.
Married people love to boast that marriage is “work” — as if they were raising barns or tilling soil — so why should singles feel embarrassed if living on your own can be quite a bit more work?
It’s work that has deep value. I was single for most of my adult life—I met my husband at 39—and I experienced the usual rewards and frustrations of living on my own.
There were glorious times—late-night dinners with the girls, solo hikes through the high plains of Wyoming—and there was also a lot of heartbreak, loneliness, and self-doubt. But what I failed to appreciate was how even the difficult times—maybe especially the difficult times—made me the woman I am today.
… Mostly, you gain strength when you learn to listen to your own voice and live life on your own terms. There is so much out there that tells single women there’s something wrong with them. But there is so much right with single women today, and I’m not just talking about how great they look in stilettos or rocking their careers.
Sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian found that single sisters aren’t just doing it for themselves, they’re also essential players in their communities. In an article in the journal Contexts, they wrote that single women attend more political meetings, sign more petitions and raise more money for political causes than married women do; and single men and women spend more time taking care of parents, siblings and friends than their married peers.
And like my busy friends, singles just get out of the house more. In Going Solo, sociologist Eric Klinenberg notes that singles spend more time at public events, have more friends and take more art and music classes.
..I’m not saying single people are better than married people—that’s silly. I’m saying that it’s time we start treating the single experience with the respect it deserves.
…This brings me to the other problem that we have when we talk about single women. In an earnest attempt to address the ragingly unfair clichés of the past, we often portray singles as superhuman, as ultra-confident heroines who never get wistful at weddings or nervous on dates. The trouble is, this leaves the impression that the only way to be a respectable unattached woman is to be impervious to love. Spend a night self-medicating in front of the television, feel a moment’s reluctance to be the “shower secretary” cataloging the bride’s gifts, have a life that is does not include foreign travel or extreme sports, and it’s easy to feel that there is yet-another standard you haven’t quite measured up to.
…But my typical day as a single woman involved working at a computer, going to the gym, cooking dinner, cleaning up after dinner, watching television, reading. This, by the way, is also a description of my typical day as a married woman.
..Now I can be an ordinary woman just puttering along. When I was single, I couldn’t shake the feeling that that was not okay, that I was not enough.
I was wrong of course. I never had to be amazing. I only had to be me—a very flawed woman staying true to her heart.
Instead of calling the contemporary single woman “fabulous,” let’s see her for who she really is: a person. She’s your neighbor, your lawyer and your fellow soccer mom. …
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